DISABILITIES

By Daniel J. Vance

  After a woman gives birth to a child with a disability, usually she feels a strong need to learn about the disability and any resources available. But in many cases she must uncover the information herself because medical professionals and government employees often aren't that helpful.

  Few women understand this better than Lois Palmer, of Mankato, Minn., who along with husband Floyd raised two severely disabled children.

  "We knew she had brain damage and cerebral palsy, but we didn't know what the future held," Lois said of Leah, second oldest of the Palmers' four daughters. "I felt like I was in a pitch-black forest and didn't know which direction to turn for information. No one I talked with in government or medicine seemed to have any answers for my questions."

  In her book Double Blessing Lois shared one trial: In 2000, she and Floyd were on the verge of being the first parents in Minnesota to build and manage a group home for their own child. The Palmers desired the best for Amber, born with Down syndrome and autism. But the runaround they received from state and county government bordered on the insane.

  "I was just trying to find straight answers," Lois said. "One area of government didn't seem to know what the other required."

  For example, though they had known Lois's intent, a state employee waited four months before telling the Palmers that Lois legally couldn't manage the group home if Amber lived on site. This was after the Palmers had purchased a lot and had begun construction.

  Millions of Americans share the Palmers' frustrations. While many states and counties seem to have dropped the ball by not making information about disabilities and related areas available, the federal government hasn't.

  Recently, the U.S. Dept. of Labor announced that more than one million people had visited its website www.DisabilityInfo.gov in its first eight months. In August 2002 President Bush signed an Executive Memorandum that directed federal agencies to develop the website as a "one-stop access to governmental disability information."

  The website may not have answers for Lois, or answers for every one of the 54 million Americans with a disability, but at least it's a step forward. Now states and counties need to follow the federal lead and develop their own websites to inform and assist persons with disabilities. Write your local politician about this important issue today. Contact Mr. Vance at www.danieljvance.com.